The Need for Wise Decisions about Paths and Terraces
Firm safe paths are essential features of any Spanish garden, however large or small. When we first moved into our house the builder offered us the choice of a square of concrete paths around the house with either the standard offering of no gap left along the wall of the house or a natural path of interesting coloured slabs of rock set in sand which would be more in keeping with the design of house and local inland valley environment and in theory allow creeping plants to be planted between the slabs. We chose the latter as it would be more in keeping with the natural garden we planned and also was no more expensive.
However the Spanish weather soon modified our plans. We arrived at the house for our first three month summer visit on the 5th June 1989. Permanent residence in Spain was not possible for us until 1994.
The paths had been laid and looked perfect even after several light spring showers. Five day’s later it poured with rain almost non stop for four days. Within two days the red clay soil had become a thick paste. Rocks tilted when one stood on them and within a week the path was topsy turvy and rather dangerous for elderly visitors expected later in the summer.
The answer was to relay the stone slabs on a concrete base and give up the idea of plants between slabs. This was done with some interesting curves made in the original straight lines.
Since then the path has remained stable and has been extended to reach various features in the more formal first half of the garden over the years.
When there was time the second part of the garden was laid out more informally and paths were created by laying stone chippings on strips of black plastic laid over rock hard clay soil. These have never needed any relaying, just an occasional brushing or raking to keep them tidy. The use of stone chippings also enabled changes to be made and a final layout of flower beds, terraces, rockeries, ponds etc arrived at by trial and error. It being very easy to change the direction, width and curves of paths merely by racking back some of the chippings and then reshaping the plastic underlay before raking back the chippings. One of the widest main paths looked a little stunted and tended to foreshorten the garden. The solution was to gradually narrow the path from the house end to the distant end. An easy optical illusion that made the garden appear to be deeper than it is.
A very important decision before finalising the network of paths was to decide what terraces we would require to enable an outdoor lifestyle throughout the year, their sizes and where to best place them, and what surfaces to use. Terraces were planned and constructed for winter and summer eating out and siestas. The summer ones with shade and the winter ones with sheltered winter sun. The network of straight, curving and at times narrowing paths was then finalised to join the terraces and create an interesting meander through the garden and not just the fastest route from door to door and to the washing line. Stepping stones were used to provide weeding access to rockery areas.
We have related this personal story to highlight the benefits of not leaving the decisions on paths to the builder and that there is a wide range of options. These are expanded on in Section 2.4 of ‘Your Garden in Spain- from planning to planting and maintenance‘.